Of Agents and Angles

I’ve never had a literary agent representing me. All the writing gigs I’ve landed – novels, plays, articles etc – I’ve secured off my own bat. But I’ve always worked on the assumption that at some point I’d need an agent, a savvy ally who could help me punch up a level in my career and would be my advocate, protector and bullshit-buffer.

I know lots of authors. Many have agents, many don’t. Some found a good agent day one and have stuck with them, some have gone through a fair few, some have abandoned the idea of being agented and gone it alone after a string of bad experiences.

The big rule, everyone tells me, is to remember that the agent works for the author. The author, in effect, is their employer. Many agents will try to convince you otherwise, but always remember they work for you, that’s the advice I was given time and time again.

Six months ago I decided to try and secure an agent. I have a book underway, the first of a trilogy, and sooner or later I’m going to want to sell it to a publisher. All the writing I’ve done so far has been buy-out – which means I got paid a flat fee and that’s that. Those contracts were simple.

But the new books will remain mine, so I will need a far more complex contract dealing with territorial rights, royalty rates, reversion clauses, digital rights, and so on and so forth. I need someone who knows this stuff inside out, and whom I trust, to deal with it for me.

My first step was to ask an editor I know and trust to recommend a few agents. They gave me a list of names. I thanked the editor and did some research.

Name 1: an author represented by them warned me off, saying that family problems had recently left the agent unable to do their job properly and clients were abandoning them, albeit reluctantly.

Name 2: an author who had once been represented by them warned me off. This agent had a tendency to get steaming drunk and send abusive emails to publishers in the early hours – there were more than a few publishers who now refused to deal with this agent as a result.

Name 3: Simply wasn’t interested.

Name 4: Had a single web page, with a pink background and comic sans font, that stated they would in no way deal with anything electronically. Written letters and snail mail were all they would countenence. Well, I’m hardly going to trust them with my digital rights, am I?

Name 5: This person came highly recommended. They responded to my email warmly, agreed to talk to me on the phone, and we had a long, friendly chat at the end of which, reassured, I asked if they would consider representing me. Certainly, they said. A form would be posted to me and once I signed it they would be my agent. Great. I told friends I had an agent. Huzzah!

I sent the agent my postal address and waited. And waited. And waited. Three months later I figured I’d give them a second chance. I emailed and said I would be at the London Book Fair. Would they be there, I asked, and if so did they fancy meeting for a coffee? No reply, not even a demurral, was forthcoming.

I began to wonder at this point why I was even bothering. I have a couple of publishers interested in the new books. I can probably deal with them myself. The search for an agent was taking up time and energy better spent writing or, perhaps, dealing with negotiations myself.

Then last night I read this blog post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch – go read it, if you’re a writer you’ll be glad you did, I’ll wait.

Done? Right, well, following my experiences, and following that blog post, I’m seriously considering going solo. But I still think an agent would help. It’s a conundrum.

What I want to know is – if you’re an agent, why should I let you represent me? And if you’re a writer, what are your experiences of agents, good, bad or indifferent?

Comments are open.

1 Comment

  1. You’re probably better off hiring a publishing lawyer than connecting with an agent nowadays. I’ve been hearing horrible things about agents and agencies for years now — they’ve all gone Hollywood.

    I’m not sure agents actually do what they traditionally did for their clients and are more interested in grabbing a piece of the work as it passes through their hands than anything else. I’ve a friend who sold a few (or one – – been a while) short stories through one agency and later realised he was forced to let the agency handle the stories in perpetuity even after he fired them.

    Like I said, get a publishing lawyer and pay his rate so you understand any contract you sign and don’t sign anything you don’t like. Publishers have nothing to publish unless you sell it to them. ”

    Another artist I worked with gave me this advice (summed up) “You can be flexible about the shit that goes away quickly, but be a complete bastard about everything else.”

    ~R

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